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Synesius of Cyrene


Mosaic depicting an angel. Museum of Ptolemais. Photo Marco Prins.
Mosaic depicting an angel. Museum of Ptolemais
Synesius of Cyrene (c.370-c.413) was a Neo-Platonic philosopher who became bishop of Ptolemais in the Cyrenaica. He left behind a small corpus of texts that offer much information about daily life in Late Antiquity, and about the christianization of the Roman world.

Letter 145, written in c.395, speaks for itself. It is offered here in the translation by A. Fitzgerald.

Letter 145: A Runaway Slave

To Herculian

One of my slaves has run away. He is not one of those whom I inherited, or one of those who have in any other way been brought up with me, for all such have received the education of freemen. I have treated them almost as my equals, and I may add that they love me as their chosen chief, rather than fear me as their lawful master.

Philoromus, that is the name of the runaway, was a slave belonging to my niece, the daughter of Amelius, and became mine through her. But as he had been brought up without care and discipline, he could not endure a philosophic and Lacedaemonian [1] regime. So he has found a master in place of me, an Alexandrian. At the present moment he is traveling over Egypt with him.

Now amongst the henchman of Heraclian there is a certain Haropcration, whose rank is that of assistant aide-de-camp - at least, so the word subadiuva is interpreted. It is in this man's company that Philoromus is. So far as I am concerned, I would most willingly have said farewell to him, for it is absurd that a rascal can do without honest people, and that confessedly honest people cannot do without a rascal. But the mistress of this scamp is not yet sufficiently philosopher to despise those people who do not stick to her, and she has urged me to dispatch people to bring him back.

Aithales, my messmate, has taken this task upon himself. I send him, confiding him to the guidance of God, and besides this I have promised him human help, namely yours. May this letter be handed over to you. Now that you understand the proposal, for the future it will concern only God, yourself, and Aithales.


Note 1:
Synesius' family came from Sparta in Lacedaemonia. The word still meant something like "austere".
Online 2007
Revision: 4 August 2007
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